(Post by: Michelle Hobbs)

Smell is a powerful sensory experience that triggers memory and emotion in us. Science has made it clear that smell and memory are closely linked. In the brain, smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, and from there, odors take a direct route to the limbic system which is related to emotion and memory.

I recently read a study about improving test scores. They suggested wearing a specific essential oil, such as lavender or peppermint, while studying for a test, and then wearing that same scent again when you take the test. The smell helps you recall details from your study sessions.

Can you think of any smells that evoke memory and/or emotion in you? This could be the smell of baking cookies transporting you back to your grandmother’s house or the smell of pipe tobacco making you think of your grandpa sitting next to you on his porch. The smell of a coffee shop is cozy and comforting to me, and the smell of old books is the divine scent of happiness, in my opinion. How about the perfume/cologne that your spouse wears? Oh, and the smell on the air just before it rains, or the leaves gathered on the ground in the fall! We could share examples like these for days.

So, what does smell have to do with the Passion Week? I’m glad you asked!

It has everything to do with a very familiar story. Mary’s anointing of Jesus with the expensive vial of perfume in John 12.

As I said, this is a story that is likely quite familiar to you. One that we can tend to simply glance over because we have read and heard it so many times. However, I would like for you to revisit it with me with a fresh perspective.

I am currently reading, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg. The authors have opened my eyes to many new concepts, but this passage transformed the way I am thinking about the days leading up to, and the day of the Triumphal Entry.

In John 12, we find Jesus back in Bethany, where Lazarus (whom Jesus had raised from the dead), and his sisters, Mary and Martha lived. It was six days before the Passover, one week before the Triumphal Entry, or what we refer to as Palm Sunday. Lazarus’ family was hosting a dinner in Jesus’ honor. While everyone was reclining at the diner table, Mary (Lazarus’ sister) took a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair (v. 3).

You may recall that this act of “wasting” such expensive perfume caused Judas (who would, just a few days later, betray Jesus) to throw a tantrum. He stated that they should have sold the perfume to provide funding for the poor (v. 5), but his real motive was purely selfish. Scripture tells us he was a thief and would help himself to their money bag (v. 6).

Jesus rebukes Judas and tells him, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (v. 7). Some scholars say that Jesus was, once again, warning His disciples that his death and burial were near. Because Mary would not be able to use the oil at the actual time of His death, the Holy Spirit led her to anoint Jesus on this night.

Could there have been an additional layer of significance to this event? Spangler and Tverberg suggest there is.

You see, at the coronation of a Hebrew, or Jewish, king, He was anointed with sacred, perfumed oil rather than being crowned. This oil, with the scent of extremely expensive spices, was used for consecrating objects in the Jewish temple and for setting apart priests and kings.

“The marvelous scent that it left behind acted like an invisible “crown,” conferring an aura of holiness on its recipients. Everything and everyone with that unique fragrance was recognized as belonging to God in a special way” (Spangler & Tverberg, 2018).

We see examples of this in the Old Testament kings. Psalm 45: 7-8 says all of King David’s robes are fragrant with myrrh, aloe, and cassia. Song of Songs 3: 6 describes King Solomon coming like a column of smoke perfumed with myrrh and incense. During royal processions, the fragrance of expensive oils would inform the crowds that a king was passing by.

Just one week after Mary anointed Jesus with the perfumed oil, He rode a donkey on His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. As the crowds welcomed Him, they were not just welcoming an ordinary prophet or teacher, they were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12: 13). The Jewish people were proclaiming Jesus as their king, whom God had sent to redeem His people.

We see in John 12:3 that Mary used a pint of the perfumed oil. It was a significant amount and the whole house was filled with the fragrance. So, it is very likely that the scent stayed with Jesus throughout the Passion week, and everywhere He went, people would have been reminded that He was King, anointed, consecrated, set apart for God.

Can you just imagine the thoughts of the priests in the temple as Jesus throws over the money changing tables or the guards who arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? What about those who cast lots for his robe? Would they have caught a whiff of the perfume and got a sinking feeling, wondering who this man really was?

Friends, I pray that this detail of the beginning of the Passion Week, revealed to us in Scripture, gives you pause this Easter. May you take time to read the Scriptures, and the upcoming blog posts, with the anticipation of discovering new revelations about the meticulous plan that God set in place for Jesus to sacrifice Himself for us. To reclaim His people from sin and death.

Jesus is our Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ. King of Kings!


Spangler, A. & Tverberg, L. (2018). Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Zondervan.

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